Our Newsletter to your inbox every week!

Cowgirl Hotlist

Iron Women: The Ladies Who Helped Build the Railroad
By Chris Enss (TwoDot).

When the last spike was hammered into the steel track of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, Western Union lines sounded the glorious news of the railroad’s completion from New York to San Francisco.  For more than five years, an estimated four thousand men mostly Irish working west from Omaha and Chinese working east from Sacramento, moved like a vast assembly line toward the end of the track.  Editorials in newspapers and magazines praised the accomplishment and some boasted that the work that “was begun, carried on, and completed solely by men.” The August edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book even reported “No woman had laid a rail and no woman had made a survey.”  Although the physical task of building the railroad had been achieved by men, women made significant and lasting contributions to the historic operation.

Women played a larger part in the actual creation of the rail lines than they have been given credit for.  Miss E. F. Sawyer became the first female telegraph operator when she was hired by the Burlington Railroad in Montgomery, Illinois, in 1872.  Eliza Murfey focused on the mechanics of the railroad, creating devices for improving the way bearings on a rail wheel attached to train cars responded to the axles.  In 1879, another woman inventor named Mary Elizabeth Walton developed a system that deflected emissions from the smokestacks on railroad locomotives. Their stories and many more are included in this illustrated volume celebrating women and the railroad.  

Reviewed by Chris Enss, COWGIRL Book Editor, and a New York Times best-selling author who writes about women of the Old West.